Cummings and going

I DON'T know why Dominic Cummings, his wife Mary and son stayed in the cottage close to his father’s gaff because they could have tootled on a bit further and stayed in splendour with the in-laws. Perhaps it’s because Dom thinks his father-in-law isn’t enough of a weirdo or misfit for him?

Mary’s family home is the 12th-century Chillingham Castle in Northumberland, and if he’d gone there Cummings wouldn’t have had to pop out to an inferior castle on Mary’s birthday, risking other road users with his fuzzy vision and avoiding all that trouble. Chillingham lays claim to being the most haunted in the country, and has so many rooms that, let’s just say, you wouldn’t want to dust them. They rent it out too, but not on Airbnb, which would only encourage the plebs to break lockdown.,which of course they wouldn’t countenance. It has its own torture chamber too, if you’re into a bit of the kinky stuff.

The head of the family is Sir Humphry Tyrrell Wakefield, ex-Gordonstoun, Cambridge and the Hussars. He’s a lifelong horseman and a bit of a character, although calling his favourite horse Barack, because it’s half black and half white, strains the reins of good taste.

And what of Cummings? He’s no surrender monkey. At the time of writing he was still hanging on by his fingernails despite more than 100 Tory MPs criticising him and 40-odd calling for his sacking. Would they be so keen to axe him if Dom had actually joined the Tory party and been less frank in his assessment of its parliamentarians?

Just like that

Comedians need a catchphrase. For an older generation Jimmy Logan’s “sausages is the boys” and “if you want me thingummy, ring me” provoked a chuckle. “Hullorerr Chinas” was Francie and Josie’s. And Fan Dabi Dozi, no, let’s gloss over that one. Limmy’s “You into Pitbull hen?” inspired one drunken Glaswegian to get it tattooed on his chest. Janey Godley’s done it now with her hilarious and profane voiceovers to Nicola Sturgeon’s press conferences with the First Minister’s exit line of “Get the door Frank”. Welcome to the pantheon, hen.

A future rewind

I STILL have the money in my pocket from the car I sold just before the lockdown began. Eighty pounds. There hasn’t been much opportunity to spend it, with the supermarkets pressuring for card payments as a protective measure, but it really does pose the question, which I always thought an abstract one: when this is all over will we be in that long-promised cashless society? That seemed absurd not long ago but now appears to be the present.

The wider issue is whether there’s going to be a new future, or one much the same as before, with added face masks? I take the pessimistic line that those with power will fight to retain it while the rest of us just want to get on with our lives in much the same way as we did, those who have jobs to return to of course, and financial security.

There’s been massive support for businesses – and trickle-down to families – from the Government, and the meter is still ticking. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that borrowing to pay for it all could more than treble from what it was before Covid, to £177 billion, and that could be conservative.

By contrast, the pumping into the economy in the 2008 financial crisis, effectively to save the banks, now looks like chump change. The result was the imposition of 10 years of austerity and meagre growth. This Tory Government has been sending signals that this will be their way out of it again. So will people accept it? Probably.

In the wake of the Second World War, with Britain massively indebted, the answer wasn’t to clamp down on spending but to increase central government investment including the creation of the welfare state. Just as, earlier, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, massive public investment, dragged the US out of the 1930s Great Depression.

It was all about industrialisation then, but we aren’t going there again, are we? The skies may be clearer and our lungs a little cleaner because of the lockdown but is there a Green New Deal on the (less obscured) horizon? Where will the pressure to create it come from?

If technology is the answer it’s the wrong question. I’m with the American economist Robert Gordon, a techno-pessimist, who argues there hasn’t really been a great leap forward. He imagines someone who goes to sleep towards the end of the 19th century and wakes up after the Second World War. The present would be unrecognisable, with the internal combustion engine, telecommunications, electricity, even fledgling computers. In comparison, someone who took a nap in 1939 and woke up at the beginning of the 21st century would be unfamiliar, says Gordon, only with the microwave.

If there is going to be a New Future we better wake up, define it, and get on with it.

Hit the road

As part of my green revolution, the spoked kind, I dug out my old bicycle which must be around 40 years old. It’s named after Barry Hoban who, until Mark Cavendish came along, had the most stage wins of any Brit in the Tour de France. He also married the widow of legendary cyclist Tom Simpson who, full of amphetamines, collapsed a kilometre from the summit of Mont Ventoux in the 1967 tour and died. His last words were: “Put me back on my bike.”

And so I set off in the sun after a few minor adjustments. Not, unfortunately, to the back brake which decided to play coy on a downward descent, I hit a rut and ended up, ignominiously, on the road. A kindly fellow cyclist, with rather better control of his machine, helped me up and the driver of the Number 4 bus got out to see if I was all right. Without further assistance, physical or chemical, I wiped away the blood and got back on Barry. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to use Simpson’s outro line. I’ll now be fitting stabilisers.